Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, but scammers prey on people looking for love online all year round. Here’s how to avoid falling victim to a romance scam.
Dating websites, apps, and social media have made it easier than ever to meet that special someone online. While millions of people use these platforms to find love, scammers often hide behind fake dating profiles to trick victims into sending them money.
According to the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the number of romance scams has increased throughout the pandemic. In 2021, people reported a record $547 million in losses to romance scams to the FTC — about 80% more than the number of reports the agency received in 2020.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, here are some red flags to look out for and ways to protect yourself from potential romance scams.
WHAT WE FOUND
Romantic scams usually occurs when a criminal adopts a false identity online to gain a person’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or intimate relationship to manipulate his victim into sending her money, according to the FBI.
“The goal of the fraudster is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, to make the victim fall in love and gain trust. Scammers may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person, but it never happens. Eventually, they will ask for money,” the FBI said in a statement site.
Many romance scammers tailor their stories to what they think will work in each situation. For example, the FTC says these scammers often come up with excuses to avoid a face-to-face meeting, saying they live or travel outside the country, work on an oil rig, in the military, or work with an international organization.
“This makes it easier to avoid a face-to-face meeting — and more believable if they’re asking for money for a medical emergency or unexpected legal expenses,” the FBI says.
Some romance scammers may send private messages on dating apps asking you to be someone’s “sugar mama” or “sugar daddy” and offer to pay their bills. Others may try to trick their victim into putting money on a cryptocurrency trading platform. But these are both ways to trick unsuspecting victims into handing over their money, according to the BBB.
Here are five other romance scam red flags to look out for.
Red Flag #1: Too good to be true. Many romance scammers offer pretty pictures and financial success stories to trick people into falling in love before asking victims to send money. If they seem “too perfect,” your alarm bells should be ringing.
Red Flag #2: Leaving a dating site or app in a hurry. Many romance scammers will try to get you to email, instant message, or phone very quickly. If a love interest seems to be in a hurry to switch from a dating app to an insecure chat app, that’s a red flag.
Red Flag #3: Moving Fast. Romance scammers are experts at what they do and will appear genuine, caring and believable at first. Many scammers will start talking about a future together and quickly tell you they love you or use overly flowery words to flatter you.
Red Flag #4: Bad spelling or grammar. If the person you’re communicating with has poor spelling or grammar, or uses phrases that don’t make sense, this is a sign that you may be dealing with a scammer. This is a common feature for other types of fraud as well.
Red Flag #5: Tug at the heartstrings. Before asking you for money, the scammer may hint at financial problems, such as the heating being cut off or the car being stolen. They may even tell a sad story from their past, such as the death of a parent or spouse.
How to protect yourself from romance scams
There are several ways to avoid falling victim to romance scams. The BBB, FBI, and AARP share the following tips on how to protect yourself from scammers:
- Never send money to someone you have never met in person. You should stop contact immediately if someone starts asking you for personal information, such as a credit card, bank number, or government identification number.
- Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use detailed information posted on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
- Do your research. Many scammers steal photos from the Internet to use in their fake dating profiles. You can do a reverse image search using a website e.g tineye.com or images.google.com to see if the photos are stolen from somewhere else.
- Be careful even if you are the first to make contact. Scammers populate dating sites with fake profiles and wait for victims to fall for them. You should always ask specific questions about the details found in a profile. A cheater may stumble over remembering details or making up a story.
- Be very suspicious of requests to wire money or use a prepaid debit card. These are fraudsters’ favorite ways to send payments because, like cash, once the money is gone, it can’t be recovered.
How to report a romance scam
If you suspect that an online relationship is a scam, stop all communication with the person immediately. You should also report the site or social media program where you met the scammer. If you paid a romance scammer with a gift card, wire transfer, credit or debit card, or cryptocurrency, the FTC says you should contact the company or bank immediately.
“Tell them you paid the scammer and ask them to refund you,” the FTC says.
To report a romance scam, you can file a complaint with FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov or go to BBB Scam Tracker.
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